Pathway to Success: Citizens Leadership Academy develops strong citizens and scholars

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Citizens Leadership Academy (CLA) is preparing its middle schoolers for success in high school, college, and life. CLA is second among all public schools in the city on student growth. The school’s eighth graders reach and surpass proficiency at a rate that is more than three times that of their peers across the city. Reading and math proficiency rates at CLA are more than double those of Cleveland Metropolitan School District's.
No matter how you slice the data, CLA is providing academic preparation that would likely be unavailable to them if the schools—and its broader high-performing charter network (Breakthrough Schools)—did not exist. And yet its academic prowess is just the tip of the iceberg.
We invite you to read this profile of a CLA student and see for yourself how this high-performing charter school has helped Keith become an honors scholar as well as an active, engaged citizen and community member.

(No) Money in the Bank

Which Retirement Systems Penalize New Teachers?

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A new teacher’s pension is supposed to be a perk. The truth is that for the majority of the nation’s new teachers, what they can anticipate in retirement benefits will be worth less than what they contributed to the system while they were in the classroom, even if they stay for decades.

(No) Money in the Bank: Which Retirement Systems Penalize New Teachers? calculates and documents that unfair reality. We ask: 

How long must a new teacher remain in the same retirement system until her benefit is finally worth more than her contributions?

To tackle this complicated analysis, we recruited Martin Lueken, director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (EdChoice). Dr. Lueken examined the timing of this "crossover" point for a new teacher in the largest public school district in each state plus the District of Columbia, using current retirement plan parameters and actual teacher salaries.

The results are appalling:

  • The median crossover point of the fifty-one districts is twenty-five years. That means teachers in more than half of these districts must wait at least two-and-a-half decades before their retirement benefit is worth more than what they’ve put in themselves.
  • In thirty-five districts, nearly three in four teachers will leave the profession before they reach the crossover point; for these teachers, their future retirement benefit will be worth less than the contributions they made to the retirement system while they were teaching.
  • And in three districts, a new teacher will never reach the crossover point—the wait is essentially infinite.

It’s not unfair to say that these systems now treat new teachers as sources of revenue for other people’s pensions rather than valued employees in their own right. For a nation that places great emphasis on equity, it is astonishing that so many states now tacitly endorse retirement systems that are inequitable to current and future generations of new teachers. 

Crossover Points by District

* Colorado's profile has been updated as of April 2017.


January 26, 2017
January 26, 2017
District Profiles


On the Right Track: Ohio’s charter reforms one year into implementation

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Ohio House Bill 2 (HB 2) was signed into law on November 1, 2015. It was a landmark piece of legislation that significantly altered the framework governing the state’s charter schools. The comprehensive legislation sought to right a sector that has struggled since Ohio’s first charter schools opened in 1998, while also protecting the very school-level autonomy that is essential to the charter model.
HB 2 aimed to reverse years of poor oversight and to put Ohio’s charter schools on the road to redemption through tougher oversight of sponsors, the entities that hold charter schools accountable (also commonly known as “authorizers”); strengthening of charter governing boards, the bodies that oversee school operations and management; and requiring greater transparency from charter operators.
Now that more than a year has passed, we take a first close look and how these charter reforms are being implemented—with vigor and care, or with neglect? Are there any early indications that the reforms are improving sector performance? Alternatively, are any unintended consequences becoming clear?
Download the full report now to see for yourself.


In the Media

January 18, 2017
Analysis says Ohio's new charter school reforms are working
November 02, 2015
Kasich signs charter-school reform bill into law
June 17, 2016
Poor-performing charter schools aren't finding second chances after Ohio's charter reform

Undue Process

Why Bad Teachers in Twenty-Five Diverse Districts Rarely Get Fired

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Countless studies have demonstrated that teacher quality is the most important school-based determinant of student learning, and that removing ineffective teachers from the classroom could greatly benefit students. Consequently, many states have reformed their teacher evaluation systems in an effort to differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers, with an eye toward parting ways with the latter.

But is dismissing poorly performing teachers truly feasible in America today? After all the political capital (and real capital) spent on reforming teacher evaluation, can districts actually terminate ineffective teachers who have tenure or have achieved veteran status?

To find answers, Fordham analysts David Griffith and Victoria McDougald constructed a ten-point metric based on three questions:

  1. Does tenure protect veteran teachers from performance-based dismissal?
  2. How long does it take to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher?
  3. How vulnerable is an ineffective veteran teacher’s dismissal to challenge?

They then used this framework to gauge the difficulty of dismissing ineffective veteran teachers in twenty-five diverse districts.

As shown in the table below, not one district in our sample has an easy process in place for dismissing an ineffective veteran teacher. Rather, the data suggest that significant barriers to dismissal remain in place in every district that we examined.

Across the country, most districts and states continue to confer lifetime tenure on teachers, weak teachers still take years to dismiss if they achieve tenured status, and any attempt to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher remains vulnerable to costly challenges at every stage in the process—from evaluation, to remediation, to the dismissal decision, and beyond. Consequently, in most districts and schools, dismissing an ineffective veteran teacher remains far harder than is healthy for children, schools, taxpayers—and the teaching profession itself.


December 08, 2016
Foreword and Executive Summary
December 08, 2016
District Profiles


In the Media

December 12, 2016
The Commercial Appeal
December 12, 2016
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

2016 Fordham Sponsorship Annual Report

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The 2015–16 school year was one of transition in Ohio. New state assessments (again), new charter sponsor evaluations, and even a new state superintendent.  Change is hard, but it is important to remember that the developments of the last twelve months have their roots in policy decisions designed to improve Ohio’s academic standards overall and its charter school sector in particular.

The 2016 Fordham Sponsorship Annual Report is our opportunity to share the Fordham Foundation’s work as the sponsor of eleven schools serving approximately 3,200 students in five cities, especially as that work relates to the large education policy landscape in Ohio.

We urge you to read this report to learn of Fordham’s commitment to quality schools for all children.

High Stakes for High Schoolers, Part II

State Accountability in the Age of ESSA

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Eleven weeks ago, in High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, the Fordham Institute reported that current K–8 accountability systems in most states give teachers scant reason to attend to the learning of high-achieving youngsters. We coupled that bleak finding with a reminder that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) creates a rare opportunity for state leaders to rethink their accountability systems and thereby set matters right.
Now we’re back with a companion paper, High Stakes for High Schoolers, which appraises state accountability regimes as they affect high-achieving students in high school. We examined states’ current (or planned) accountability systems and rated them based on whether they incorporate under ESSA the following principles to incent schools to prioritize high achievers:
  1. Give high schools incentives for getting more students to an advanced level of achievement.
  2. Use the flexibility provided by ESSA to rate high schools using a true growth model—that is, one that includes the progress of individual students at all achievement levels and not just those who are low-performing or below the “proficient” line.
  3. Make growth—across the achievement spectrum—count at least as much as achievement when determining summative high school ratings.
  4. Include an indicator that encourages high schools to help able students earn college credit before they graduate.
We find that most current (and planned) state accountability systems provide high schools with few incentives to focus on their high-achieving students. In fact, our analysis indicates that just four states—Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas—have truly praiseworthy systems when it comes to focusing attention on these students, though four others—Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, and New York—are clearly moving in the right direction in their proposed frameworks.
See the tables below for two sets of ratings: one for the thirty-nine states (plus the District of Columbia) that calculate (or intend to calculate) summative school ratings and one for the eleven states that don’t (or don’t plan to) take this step. 

Table 1: Results for States without Summative School Ratings

Click on each state’s name for an analysis of its high school accountability system as it pertains to high-achieving students.

Idaho*, New York*, Ohio
California*, Kansas, New Jersey, Tennessee
Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina

*Indicates that a state's rating was based upon a planned system.

Table 2: Results for States with Summative School Ratings

Alabama*, Georgia, Louisiana*, Pennsylvania, Texas
Arkansas, Colorado*, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico
Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, WashingtonWest Virginia*, Wyoming
Arizona, District of Columbia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island*, Utah, Wisconsin
Illinois*, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia
*Indicates that a state's rating was based upon a planned system.
Fortunately, states now have an opportunity to put America’s schools on the right path. It will take leadership and courage, however, as naysayers will always insist that any attention given to high achievers is inherently elitist. They are wrong. There are hundreds of thousands of American teenagers ready to work harder, reach higher, and go further, if only we give them the chance. Many are children of color and come from poor families. They deserve our attention. State accountability systems can send strong signals about who matters. The right answer is everyone—including high achievers.
Amendment: Due to a data oversight, West Virginia's rating was initially represented as one star out of four in this report's initial publication. As of November 16, 2016, all materials associated with this report have been updated to reflect West Virginia's ranking of two stars for its proposed framework under ESSA. We regret the error.


November 15, 2016
High Stakes for High Schoolers (Find Your State's Profile)
November 15, 2016
High Stakes for High Achievers (Main Report)
November 15, 2016
Foreword & Executive Summary


Pathway to Success: KIPP Columbus takes seriously its mission to send kids to and through college

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KIPP Columbus achieves extraordinary outcomes for its students, predominantly students in poverty and students of color. Led by Hannah Powell and a visionary board, the school has a rare knack for forging powerful partnerships at every turn—ones that strengthen KIPP students, their families, and the entire community near its campus. We invite you to read this profile of Steve, a KIPP graduate, an immigrant and first-generation college student now attending Vanderbilt University. Steve’s entire family has been uplifted by the school and his story shows powerfully what is really possible in a high-quality charter school.

Charter Schools at the Crossroads

Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities

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Over the past quarter-century, charter schools have gone from an upstart education experiment to a prominent, promising, and disruptive innovation in K–12 education. Indeed, few observers present at the creation of the first charter schools could have predicted how rapidly this movement would spread or how thoroughly it would come to dominate the education-reform agenda. In Charter Schools at the Crossroads, authors Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Brandon L. Wright take stock of what chartering has (and hasn’t) accomplished thus far, how to address its present challenges, and what an ambitious and boldly different course for the next twenty-five years would look like. 

From the role of philanthropy to the rise of no-excuses charter schools, they frankly examine the positive and negative consequences of policies and programs, and push sector leaders to do more, do better, and do it differently. They counter the often-oversimplified narrative of the movement’s origins, showing how multiple agendas and intentions led to a cacophony of results. And they address chartering’s many current dilemmas, including the roles of authorizers and operators, challenges in facilities and funding, and the balance between freedom and regulation. Informative and provocative, this book shows the tremendous work accomplished by the charter sector thus far—and how much still remains to be done.

Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities is published by Harvard Education Press and is available for purchase on its website or Amazon.

Timeline of Charter School History

Scroll left and right through significant events.

Setting Sights on Excellence: Ohio’s School Report Cards, 2015-16

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On September 15, Ohio released report cards for approximately 600 school districts and 3,500 public schools (district and charter). These report cards are based on state exam results from the 2015-16 school year, along with several other gauges of student success. This year’s report card analysis, Setting Sights on Excellence, offers a close look at the report card data while also placing them within the context of Ohio’s major policy reforms. With the aim of readying more students for college and career, such reforms include a shift to higher learning standards and more rigorous state assessments. 

The key findings:

  • Reflecting Ohio’s higher learning standards, fewer students in Ohio are deemed “proficient” on state exams than in previous years. In 2015-16, roughly 55 to 65 percent of Ohio pupils met the proficiency bar in the core subjects. Nevertheless, Ohio’s proficiency benchmark still falls short of matching a rigorous, college and career ready standard.
  • In turn, school ratings across that state have declined. In urban areas, public schools receive almost universally low ratings on proficiency based metrics: On the state’s performance index—a key gauge of student achievement—94 percent of urban schools received D or F ratings in 2015-16. This reflects both higher standards and the persistent achievement gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
  • Ohio’s urban schools, however, can perform well on the value added measure—a gauge of student growth that is not correlated with demographics. In 2015-16, 29 percent of urban charter schools received an A or B rating on value added, while 19 percent of district-run schools did so. This report recognizes twenty-five high-performing urban schools that have earned strong value added results over the past three years.

In addition to analyses of statewide data, Setting Sights on Excellence provides an in-depth look at the performance of charter and district sectors in the Ohio Big Eight cities (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown). Download the report today to learn more about Ohio’s report cards.

Charter School Boards in the Nation's Capital

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Tens of thousands of individuals across the United States volunteer their time, energy, and expertise as members of charter school boards. Yet as the charter sector has grown, we’ve learned remarkably little about these individuals who make key operational decisions about their schools and have legal and moral responsibilities for the education of children in their communities.

Fordham’s latest study, Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital, is one of the first attempts to use quantitative survey data to explore the relationship between charter boards and school quality. Authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis of Bellwether Education Partners queried charter school board members in Washington, D.C.—a city with one of the highest percentage of public charter school students in the nation—to determine (a) who serves on District charter boards and (b) which board practices are associated with school quality.

Key findings include:

  • Charter school board members in D.C. tend to be affluent, highly educated individuals with liberal or moderate political leanings. Three-quarters of them have served fewer than four years on their board. A slight majority is white, and one-third are African American. They are fairly evenly distributed by age and have a wide range of occupational backgrounds, although almost one-third work in education.
  • Board members of high-quality charters are more knowledgeable about their schools. These board members are more likely to know their school's quality rating from the DC Public Charter School Board, can more accurately estimate the percentage of their school’s population that is eligible for free or reduced priced lunches, and are more knowledgeable about school finances.
  • Board members of high-quality schools are more likely to participate in training, engage in strategic planning, and meet monthly. In particular, board members at high-performing schools are more likely to have received training in developing the school budget, strategic planning, and legal and policy issues.
  • Board members of high-quality schools are significantly more likely to evaluate their school leaders and use staff satisfaction as a factor in such evaluations.
  • Regardless of school quality, charter school board members have much in common, including beliefs about the importance of academic achievement, similar school finance practices, and understanding their role and responsibilities.

While focused on charter board members in Washington D.C., the report nonetheless offers valuable insights for charter advocates in other cities. By recruiting informed and dedicated volunteers to lend their time to these boards—and nudging them to implement sound practices—they may be able to replicate some of the successes of one of America’s most robust charter sectors.


September 29, 2016
Foreword & Executive Summary


In the Media

October 12, 2016
Nonprofit Quarterly
November 17, 2016
The Detroit News